Remembrance in Bloom
About two and a half years later. London.
One night when they were eating out, Aurora suddenly realized that her brother had a big bad crush on Keira Knightley.
In the last couple of years, Keira had become a welcome visitor for the little Bloom family. Whenever she had the time, she would come over and play soccer with Aurora and Gus. While Aurora thought she was just the coolest friend she ever had, Gus had suddenly turned coy, and Aurora didn’t know why. But it was quite obvious, if you thought about it. Gus hoarded his food, no matter how much the teachers had beaten it into his head to share, share, share. And now, there he was, trying to give away his eggroll. He loved eggrolls! Yep, he was infatuated with Keira alright.
As she nibbled on her chicken fried rice, she wondered if her father had a crush on Keira, too. Or maybe he had a crush on Aunt Pen. She didn’t know. Aunt Pen was promoting her new clothing line at the moment, and they didn’t see her as much. But it was the sort of thing that boys did, according to her buddies at school. All the grown-ups paired off and got married and had babies. All of a sudden, she remembered what she wanted to ask her father but had forgotten in the excitement of finding out they were having dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant with Keira again.
Orlando at the moment was wiping Ariel’s chin. The toddler gave her father a grin with a complete set of white baby teeth, and he kissed her on the forehead.
As Orlando went for his drink, Aurora figured it would be the best time for her to ask her question.
“Daddy?” she asked.
Orlando looked at her, spoke before bringing the glass to his lips. “Yes, love?”
“Could I ask you a question?”
“Well certainly, love,” Orlando assured her after swallowing. “You can ask Daddy any old thing you want.”
Aurora blinked, not expecting it to be so easy. Apparently, Orlando had no idea what was coming to him. Oh well. “Okay.” She paused. “Where do babies come from?”
Orlando was so flabbergasted that he spit out the drink he had in his mouth. Luckily, he had turned his head at the last second or he would have sprayed Keira with saliva and sweet tea. A couple of servers craned their heads to see what was going on while some patrons looked on with raised eyebrows. Meanwhile, Gus giggled hysterically at the spit take and Keira nearly choked on her Kung Pao Chicken, trying not to laugh. Ariel played with the fortune cookie she wasn’t supposed to have until she finished her dinner, taking advantage of the diversion to try and figure out how to get it open.
“Excuse me?” Orlando managed.
Orlando sighed heavily, hand to chest. Were those chest pains? Was he getting ready have a heart attack? “Dear God, please don’t repeat it.” When Aurora’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, he added hastily, “No, no! I didn’t mean that! What I meant was—”
Behind a napkin, a giggle escaped from Keira’s mouth. Mortified, Orlando trained his wide brown eyes upon his youthful, stunning co-star.
“Are you laughing at me?” Orlando demanded incredulously.
At that time, Ariel had torn through the cellophane wrapper to get to her coveted fortune cookie. “Cookie!” she declared with such glee that it made Keira grin.
“I can’t help it,” Keira responded as laughter bubbled over into her words. “You look like she just asked you if she could have a condom.”
“Condom?” Aurora frowned, having heard a strange word. “What’s that?”
Orlando looked at Keira exasperatedly. “Keira…?!”
Keira wiped her lips and threw her napkin near her plate. “Oh alright, mate. Since you’re obviously floundering, I’ll go settle this with our little Aurora here.”
“But…but…” Orlando sputtered.
It was too late. Keira was ushering Aurora to the girl’s bathroom so they could “freshen up and talk.” Watching them leave, Orlando sighed and wished he had a stiff drink. Then his eyes strayed to Ariel, who grinned at him while pulverizing the fortune cookie she so badly wanted into dust.
“Daddy!” Ariel exclaimed joyfully. She picked up a shard of the unfortunate cookie. “Cookie?”
Yep, a mighty large stiff drink would definitely do the trick.
* * *
Sitting on the counter by the bathroom sink, Aurora listened to Keira as she spoke. As she slowly and succinctly explained, things suddenly made sense. Everything Aurora gleaned from the explanation could be boiled down to one generalization.
Grown-ups were extremely strange creatures.
“So why do grown-ups have babies if it hurts to have them?” Aurora asked.
At the moment, Keira was washing her hands. “Well, just think about it,” Keira answered. “If nobody had any babies, then there would be no people left. Just think what would happen if everyone stopped having babies.”
Aurora paused to think about this as Keira dried her hands. In her line of reasoning, she realized that eventually she would have to have a baby. She looked down at her flat tummy, wondering how in the world a baby could fit in there. She thought of her mother and how she carried her and Gus. At the same time! She must have been miserable!
“Can I not have a baby if I want to?” Aurora inquired, starting to feel not-too-keen on the baby business.
Keira fixed her bangs and pouted slightly at her reflection. “If you want,” she responded, shrugging. She smiled at the little girl with her father’s eyes. “But I think you might change your mind.”
“Maybe,” Aurora murmured.
The door opened at that moment and the conversation lulled. Keira reapplied lip gloss in the mirror as the newcomer went into a stall. A few moments later, the woman came out and came to the sink beside Keira. As she washed her hands, Aurora looked up.
It was a feeling that she had never felt before, this feeling that she knew this woman standing at the sink washing her hands.
“Alright, kid,” Keira said to Aurora, putting her lip gloss away in her purse. “Ready to go back and terrorize your dad some more?”
It was the kind of comment that would have had Aurora cheering in agreement, but Aurora wasn’t listening. Her eyes were fixated on the woman’s face as she tried to place her. A memory was buried underneath three years of forgetfulness. As it fought its way to the surface, she gasped.
“I remember you,” Aurora said breathlessly.
Keira had her hands under Aurora’s arms about to pick her up and set her on the ground when Aurora spoke. The woman looked up, idly really. But when she spied Aurora staring at her with a combination of awe and awareness, she tilted her head quizzically and stared back at the little girl.
“What did you say?” the woman asked.
“I remember you,” Aurora repeated. “From the day my little sister was born. You said she was a beautiful baby.”
Comprehension alighted in the woman’s dark blue eyes. “Oh yes! I remember you now. How is your little sister doing?”
“She’s great,” Aurora replied, brightening. “She’s walking now, and she’s almost speaking in complete sentences. She calls me ‘Rora’ because she can’t say my whole name yet.”
The woman smiled. “See? I told you being a big sister wouldn’t be so bad. I’m sure your mummy and daddy still love you the same, and probably even more.”
Aurora faltered a bit, thinking of her dead mother and how she had died on the day she had talked with that woman. She nodded silently, and the woman spied the pain in her eyes. Keira did, too, and decided it was time to return to dinner. She politely bade the woman goodbye and led the somber Aurora out of the bathroom.
Once they were seated at the table, Orlando, who now had Ariel in his lap, noted the change in his eldest’s demeanor and frowned at Keira.
“What happened?” Orlando asked softly as Aurora picked at her chicken fried rice.
“We ran into some lady Aurora recognized in the bathroom,” Keira answered. Glancing at Aurora, who was arguing over the last eggroll with Gus, she continued. “Apparently, they talked the day Ariel was born.”
Orlando felt that familiar tightening in his chest that came whenever he thought about that day. “Who was she?”
Keira shifted in her chair as to get a good look at the women’s bathroom and the area around it. Her eyes swept the room, and found the woman sitting with a dark-skinned woman in all black on the other side of the dining room.
“That’s her,” Keira said, pointing her out. “The haughty-looking blonde over there.”
Orlando followed the direction of her finger. He took in the sight of the “haughty-looking blonde” with her female companion. She seemed troubled to Orlando, fending off her friend’s attempts to make her laugh. When she turned her head and lifted her eyes to his, he felt a vague sense of something unknown. They locked eyes for a moment, but then she turned away, almost as if she couldn’t take his gaze.
Gus tugged his sleeve and got his attention. “Daddy? Can we go get ice cream now?”
Pushing the woman from his brain, he turned to his son and grinned. “You bet. Who wants a double scoop?”
“I do!” Keira cried. “I want my fair share of ice cream and I am going to get it.”
Orlando lifted Ariel and threw some bills down to cover the check and the tip at the same time. “Well, you can get whatever you want, love. ‘Cause you’re paying for it.”
Keira protested loudly, and they got up from the table and filed out, a laughing facsimile of a family.
They passed by the blonde, and as she watched them, she understood the pained look in Aurora’s eyes. They had a family alright, in all senses of the word, but there was still someone missing. Someone very missed.